Sunday, January 17, 2016

Youth movement

Blues getting key contributions from Fabbri, Rattie, Parayko, Edmundson 

ST. LOUIS -- It's no secret that the Blues' success in recent seasons has been based around what coach Ken Hitchcock says on a regular basis being, "Our best players being our best players."

More times than not, when the Blues win, their best players perform at a top-notch level.

However, having played the most games (48) in the NHL through Saturday's 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens, the Blues (26-15-7) are a tired group. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ty Rattie (right) celebrates with teammate Patrik Berglund after scoring
his second NHL goal on Saturday.

They're in the middle of a stretch of seven games in 13 days leading up to the all-star break. This, after playing two sets of nine games in 15 days, has taken a toll on veterans who have logged a lot of mileage and a team that has been decimated by injuries (167 man games lost).

The Blues have had no choice but to rely on young players. Robby Fabbri and now Ty Rattie up front, and Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson on the blue line.

Fabbri and Rattie came through with clutch goals in the victory against the Canadiens, who outshot the Blues 49-22. But they're getting quality moments from the a 19-year-old (Fabbri), and a trio of 22-year-olds (Rattie, Parayko and Edmundson).

"We're just trying to fit into whatever role we need for that night, for that game and just provide for the team and contribute as much as we can," said Fabbri, who has 11 goals and 17 points in 42 games. "Eddy's doing a great job being a pest, being that tough, strong defenseman. 'Rats' came up and he's got a couple goals. We're having a lot of fun and we're having fun together, which makes it a lot easier on the ice."

Hitchcock had both Fabbri and Rattie playing in prominent roles Saturday. Rattie scored the tying goal in the third period, and Fabbri -- finally -- saw the ice in overtime, and helped create the play that set up Jori Lehtera's winner.

"To get the boost from Fabbri and Rattie, those kids are giving us juice when there's a lot of guys not having it right now," Hitchcock said. "They're helping us. 

"They're threats; they're threats to score. ... That's exactly what we need right now. We need somebody else coming through for us because there's been a lot of heavy lifting. I saw the affect of physicality of one game against us the way L.A. played the next night. I saw the next night against Anaheim the way they played off of our game and we had to go play a back-to-back and then come back off a day off and play again. That's what happens at this time of the schedule. Any little energy, we've got to put those guys out there if they can help us."

For Rattie, it's two goals (the first in his career) in two straight games. He scored his first NHL goal in the third period of a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils last Tuesday.

Rattie has played 20 games and seven this season. But the past two have come on the recent recall, and it's obvious that he's playing with the most confidence since he played his first NHL game in 2014.

"It's confidence and playing more games and just believing that I can play up here," Rattie said. "Half the game is the confidence and the mindset. I'm trying to go into these games thinking that I belong here. I want to show that I belong here. I've felt good the last two games and I'm just happy I can help the team on the scoreboard.

"Your first few games, you look around on the ice and you can't believe you're there; you're playing against these guys. At the same time, you've got a job to do and you've got to battle these guys. I have to have that mindset that I belong and I need to show that I belong. I just have to keep that mindset and that confidence up."

Did something click?

"Before the New Jersey game, I felt good," Rattie said. "I wanted to be out there. I kind of took it as a now or never. I wanted to get it done right then and there. I thought I had a real good game against New Jersey and I thought I carried it into last night. The goals and the points are just an added bonus."

Said Hitchcock: "He's playing through people now. When he was here before, he played with too much respect. ... There was some open ice, he found it, but now he's playing through things. He's fighting through checks, he's fighting to get to the net. He's got the nose for the net like nobody. He deserves to keep playing; so does Fabbri."

What Parayko and Edmundson have done has also been impressive, simply because of the difficulties of playing the position.

Parayko has six goals and 12 assists and a team-leading plus-15 in 46 games. Edmundson, who began the season on the Blues' roster, was assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League earlier in the season when he "hit a wall," as Hitchcock called it but has come back with a different outlook.

"When I went down there (to Chicago), I kind of cleared my mind and let me get everything under perspective," Edmundson said. "I'm still chasing that first goal and I think I kind of got away from my physicality searching for that. Just coming back up here, I knew what my role was, to play physical and stand up for my teammates. I have no problem doing that and hopefully that goal comes along with that.

"It's been a whirlwind. There have been ups and downs, but I think it's been an awesome experience so far. I'm just happy there are a couple other young guys that I can share the whole season with. So far it's been good. I can't wait to see how this team's built for the future. Every day I'm learning something different. You've just got to come in here with an open mind. Every game is a new steppingstone. You never want to see the injuries we've had happen, but that just shows the depth that this organization has. It's nice that they trust us young guys and so far, we've done a great job."

Parayko has never played more than 74 games in a season when he played for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the American Junior Hockey League in 2011-12, including playoffs.

He did play 34 for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks last season, but it helped to get into 22 games with the Wolves.

"At the end of last year, I got to go play in Chicago for (22) games," Parayko said. "I don't know exactly how many last year, maybe high 50's ... coming up here pretty soon. I just think it's going to be the way I approach it. Just coming to the rink, making sure I do rehab, therapy every day just so I don't make sure it hits me like a wall all of the sudden. It's not going to be tough to get up for an NHL game at any point." 

Hitchcock credits how the rookie defenseman have adjusted to the tough roles.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko battles Montreal's Brendan Gallagher
for puck possession on Saturday.

"For a defenseman for sure," Hitchcock said. "There's so many little things that  go on, there's so many little games that get played in your own zone, so many reads, stick positioning, all the details. To me, playing defense is about details. It takes you years to get those details done right. You can play on ability, you can play on skill, but all the details that make you a good player that defends well, attacks well, all those elements, it takes a long time to get those details in place. I would say defense for sure.

"I think they've done fine. I think again, like Fabbri, you've got to be careful helping them plow through walls. They're going to hit walls. Parayko's hit the wall, Edmundson hit the wall. You don't know when it is. How you react to it when they do it is really important. If you don't react the right way and you don't register what it is and then put more work on top of exhaustion, then you're not going to end up with much of a player. We've got a lot of people monitoring their energy level and I think they're helping us through it keeping those lines of communication open and I think that's what allowed both guys to come through some walls that were here a week or 10 days ago."

The Blues have four more games until a much-needed week off for all-star festivities. The fresh, young legs have been a nice infusion.

"They're giving a lot because we've played a lot of games," Lehtera said. "There's tired guys. So it's time for 'Fabs,' 'Rats' and young guys because they have a lot of power there. They can play the whole season when old guys get tired."

* NOTES -- Defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson, out with upper-body injuries, skated during Sunday's optional skate. 

There's a chance Bouwmeester, who was injured when hit by Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf on Jan. 8, could play Monday. It'll all depend on how he feels after the morning skate.

"I feel good. I've skated a few times now," Bouwmeester said. "Skating again tomorrow morning and see how she goes. I feel good, so that's good at this point. ... I'll know tomorrow. The few skates that we've had have been good, but it's not like a real practice or anything.

"It was a big hit. Partly my fault. I kind of put myself in a vulnerable position. He's a big guy and combination of my head kind of hitting him in the right spot. He got me pretty good, but it kind of happens. ... There's certain protocols that you follow. I'll see how it goes tomorrow and go from there."

Gunnarsson, injured the following night at Los Angeles, will not play.

* The Blues recalled veteran defenseman Andre Benoit from the Wolves.

Benoit, 32, has dressed in 37 games for the Wolves this season, ranking second on the club with 25 points, including a team-leading 21 assists.

The 5’11, 195-pound defenseman was originally signed by the Blues as a free agent on July 6, 2015. He has appeared in 179 NHL games with Buffalo (2014-15), Colorado (2013-14) and Ottawa (2010-13). He has 48 points (11 goals, 37 assists).

Defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser cleared waivers Sunday and will be released for the purpose of terminating his contract. He was signed this past summer to a one-year contract.

1 comment:

  1. Rattie has had multiple "last chances" it seems over the last two seasons, do you think the Blues view him in that light or has he simply taken longer to really start clicking at the NHL level that perhaps originally thought?

    In a similar line of thinking, do you feel the club is 100% in on Jaskin? He's been slow to produce but I think has been victim of Hitch using him on the wrong line and hasn't been able to develop a lot of chemistry with the right guys. Would you agree? Are guys like Rattie & Jaskin trade fodder when everyone (Schwartz) is healthy?